When last season’s CIAC Division III tournament started, the Hall-Southington Warrior-Knights were fortunate enough to pull the sixth seed in the rankings and get a first-round matchup against the No. 11 seed, which happened to be the Newington Co-op Indians.
The rivalry between the two co-ops has grown exponentially since the inception of the two programs.
“I think our guys think more about Newington than Conard,” said Cannon on the gravity of the Newington game compared to a game against cross-town rival Conard. “Those guys put a lot of thought and effort into us.”
The two co-ops will kick off their 2018 series Wednesday night at Veterans Memorial Rink in West Hartford at 7:30 p.m. Division II Hall-Southington is 3-2 after winning three straight. The Newington Co-op is 5-0 facing primarily Division III peers.
Hall-Southington stands at 9-12-1 lifetime against the Newington Co-op. That record goes back to the 2008-2009 season, which was the first for the Hall-Southington as a combined team. In that season, Hall-Southington went 1-0-1 against its new rival, with the win coming in the CCC tournament.
As members of the CCC South, the two co-ops now play each other twice in the regular season.
“Newington is always going to get up for us and play us tougher,” said Cannon. “I only worry about us having an off night.”
Hall-Southington returns a core of players, including senior goaltender Zach Monti, senior defender Drew Booth and senior forward Miles Aronow.
They all are going to be key players in the rivalry this season. The three have been part of six games already against Newington and have seen it all in the rivalry. As freshman, these Warrior-Knights were swept by the Indians. As sophomores, they spilt the season series with an impressive overtime win. As juniors, they swept the Indians and then beat them 4-3 in overtime in the first round of the Division III state tournament.
“I hope so,” said Cannon when asked if the closeness of last season’s playoff game will push his players to not let that happen again. “We are supposed to be winning Division III games, regardless of what division we are in.”
One thing the Newington Co-op can hold over Warrior-Knights is actually two things: Back-to-back Division III state championships in 2012 and 2013.
After losing in last year’s D-III final to Woodstock Academy, this season was shaping up to be one for the Warrior-Knights to get a one in the championship column, but the CIAC moved Hall-Southington up to Division II.
“I have to play this very politically careful,” said Cannon when asked why Newington wasn’t moved up after winning its first Division III championship. “Apparently, there are people out there that think more of us than we do and I also suspect there is some political forces at work that didn’t want us in their way in their path to the Division III tournament.”
Last year was the Warrior-Knights’ first appearance in the final four of the state tournament, let alone a state championship game.
“They crushed the hopes of 25 high school kids that, last March, were really looking forward to continuing the fight to win the Division III tournament this year,” said Cannon.
Along with a core of returners, players like Mike Dipietro and Jacob Albert add a sense of awesome depth and hockey awareness to the Hall-Southington lineup.
“We have our inconsistencies; we are not the same team we were last year,” said Cannon. “We graduated a load of scoring and we’re not making that up.”
In between the pipes, Monti has been the guy to take the starts over senior Harry Freda. However, Freda is a capable goalie who can take a start at the drop of a pin. Because of this, goaltending decisions are made close to game time.
“It’s primarily been Monti’s net,” said Cannon. “We’ve got no need to not put Monti in the net, but we want to make sure Harry gets his chances.”
The Newington Co-op is currently unbeaten with wins over NFA Redhawks, Norwalk-McMahon (twice), Joel Barlow, and the Shepaug Co-op. The Indians have outscored their opponents 23-3. Their opponents, however, have a combined record of 5-22.
Matt Lavoie (5G, 2A) and Patrick Doherty (4G, 5A) have been carrying the offense for the Indians.